DENVER -- If there’s one statistic that encompasses Trevor Rosenthal’s 2019 season thus far, it’s this: The right-hander gave up three runs on two hits, walking one, hitting a batter and uncorking three wild pitches during the eighth inning of the Nationals’ 9-5 loss to the Rockies on Wednesday at Coors Field, and yet his ERA actually decreased from 40.50 to 36.00.
“It feels like the harder I try, the more it hurts me,” Rosenthal said. “ … In the past, when I wanted to put something extra on [a pitch], it worked, and good things would happen. Right now, I just don’t feel like I’m at that place.”
Rosenthal was one of the game’s premier closers from 2014-15, posting a 2.65 ERA with 93 saves for the Cardinals and earning an All-Star nod in ’15. But he had to undergo Tommy John surgery in ’17, causing him to miss the rest of that season, as well as all of last year.
The Nationals were impressed with his showcase last October, during which he touched 100 mph with his fastball and looked healthy, with a chance to return to his dominant form. So far, with Washington’s bullpen shouldering the unenviable distinction of owning the worst ERA in the Majors, at 7.07, Rosenthal has looked anything but dominant.
In Wednesday’s series finale against Colorado, Rosenthal entered the game in the eighth inning with a three-run deficit. He hit the first batter he faced, Charlie Blackmon, and then walked Trevor Story. A wild pitch enabled the baserunners to move up before Daniel Murphy grounded out to first on a diving play by Matt Adams.
Rosenthal’s second wild pitch resulted in Blackmon scoring, and that was followed by a Nolan Arenado RBI single. Rosenthal then uncorked another wild pitch while David Dahl was at the plate, allowing Arenado to advance to second. Dahl singled Arenado home before Rosenthal was finally able to put an end to the disastrous frame with a pair of flyouts.
“We had to get Rosie in the game,” manager Dave Martinez said, referring to the fact that Rosenthal had only made six prior appearances and hadn't pitched in eight days. “We’ve got to see what he can do. At this point, he just doesn’t look right.”
Over his first four outings this season -- with his first coming on March 30, representing a 591-day hiatus -- Rosenthal’s ERA was infinite; he hadn’t been able to complete a full inning, giving up seven runs in the process. Over his two other outings prior to Wednesday’s, he surrendered two runs in two innings, walking four and striking out three.
Rosenthal said he’s feeling great physically, but that for the first time in his career, he’s overthinking things when he’s on the mound.
“It’s tough when you kind of get into a funk like this, you kind of start to think about things a little bit more than you normally would,” he said. “I think that’s where I’m at. I’ve gotta just get over that hump and clear my mind, and just trust everything. … When I just throw it, good things happen and I make good pitches. But when I get behind or I feel like I need to make a really good pitch, a two-strike pitch, that’s when I’m having those misses.”
The challenge going forward for Rosenthal and the Nationals is twofold: they’ll have to figure out how to stop Rosenthal’s downward spiral, and they’ll have to do it while utilizing him -- at least for now -- less often than he’s used to.
“It’s just hard because I’m not used to having that much time [between outings],” he said. “But I think if that’s going to be the case, I just have to find some extra time in between to put in some more work and have myself be ready if those are the situations.”
The challenge awaits, and time is of the essence, particularly in an already bunched-up National League East division that promises to be competitive all the way through the season. The Nationals need their bullpen to turn things around, and do it yesterday.
Rosenthal is a big piece of that puzzle.
“We’ve got to figure something out,” Martinez said. “I know we need him, but we’ve got to figure out what’s going on and get him right. … We need him to pitch.”